[Marxism] The Slow Rise of Abuse That Shocked the Nation

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 18 05:53:01 MDT 2005

(I could be wrong about this, so will be glad if someone can verify
whether or not this edition of PBS FRONTLINE will be shown tonight
in Miami. But if it is, I can tell you there is nothing to encourage
readers of the HERALD to see the program. In any event, it does seem
quite likely that things like US hypocrisy in its perennial campaign
to have Cuba condemned for "human rights" violations while being the
practicioner of such abuses itself was an important contributing
factor to the unanimous decision over the weekend of the Salamanca
summit to unanimously oppose the US blockade of Cuba, and in fact 
to use that precise word, "blockade", and to also unanimously call
for the extradition of Posada to Venezuela. Posada's name was not
specifically mentioned, but since there is no one else on the planet
whose extradition for this is currently being sought, it's obvious
that Posada was being referred to in the Salamanca declaration

(Also, note that one of the charges against the only officer who
was demoted over Abu Ghraib, Janis Karpinski, was "shoplifting.")

October 18, 2005
TV Review | 'The Torture Question'
The Slow Rise of Abuse That Shocked the Nation


What happened at Abu Ghraib is no longer a mystery. Why it happened
is harder to fathom. "The Torture Question," a "Frontline" inquiry on
PBS tonight, puts a human face on inhumane behavior.

The images on "Frontline" that speak most eloquently to the sadism
that took hold inside the prison at Abu Ghraib are not the snapshots
of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in human pyramids or cowering before
German shepherds - photographs that shocked and baffled the world.
What "Frontline" also shows are videos shot by American soldiers
inside their barracks at Abu Ghraib in November 2003 - homemade
movies of young soldiers dancing to hip-hop music that escalates into
group attacks on a dummy of a prisoner, a primitive "Lord of the
Flies" ritual of punching and stabbing that, if it took place in a
bar, might prompt witnesses to call the police. In Afghanistan and,
later, Iraq, these soldiers were the police.

American soldiers operated without clear guidelines but under adult
supervision. "The Torture Question" methodically makes the case that
pressure to wring more information out of prisoners came from the
highest echelons of the White House and the Pentagon, well before the
2003 invasion of Iraq with captives from Afghanistan held at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and worked its way down to the lowliest, most
ill-trained soldiers.

Over a still photograph of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
writing at his standing desk in his office, the documentary shows a
2002 Defense Department document outlining harsher interrogation
techniques to be used at Guantánamo Bay, including dogs and keeping
prisoners standing in "stress positions" for four hours at a time.
That memo was personally annotated by Mr. Rumsfeld, who scrawled a
postscript at the bottom: "I stand 8 to 10 hours a day. Why is
standing limited to 4 hours?"

Now may not be the most opportune moment to focus on the abuse of
prisoners from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Cable news and
broadcast networks are fixated on different kinds of issues, from the
possibility of top White House aides being indicted to the judicial
qualifications of Harriet E. Miers, President Bush's nominee for the
Supreme Court. News from Iraq is centered around the recent
referendum on a constitution as well as car bombs and American
attacks on insurgent forces.

But sadly, the question of torture seems to be timeless. In August,
Gen. Richard B. Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
was still arguing that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was not a "widespread
problem." This month, Army Capt. Ian Fishback and others recalled
other incidents of torture in Iraq, by soldiers of the First
Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, of the 82nd Airborne Division at
Camp Mercury, near Falluja.

Much of the information in the "Frontline" piece was reported earlier
in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The New Yorker, as
well as other publications. The infamous photographs of guards
torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib were first shown by CBS News. But
PBS provides a thoughtful, unflinching look at a situation so
horrible it drives most people to avert their eyes.

"The Torture Question" puts prisoner abuse in a broader context of
fear and rage, both in Washington and on the ground in Iraq.

The documentary winds the clock back to the shock of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. Government lawyers are interviewed at some length.
John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped Attorney
General Alberto R. Gonzales, who was then White House counsel,
formulate new rules of engagement, explains how he and others sought
to adapt the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners to "a
much different kind of enemy, a nonstate actor that doesn't wear
uniforms, doesn't operate in normal units, blends into civilian
populations and conducts surprise attacks against civilians."

A PBS crew accompanies military convoys from Baghdad to Abu Ghraib,
15 miles west of the capital, and captures the anxiety of that
perilous trip, as well as the siege mentality there: the prison
guards are themselves prisoners of the fear of attacks by insurgents,
car bombers and snipers.

But the film also explores the bitter infighting between the C.I.A.
and F.B.I. over interrogation techniques first developed at
Guantánamo Bay and later exported to Iraq. It also looks high up the
chain of command, to Mr. Rumsfeld and Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez,
who was commander of American forces in Iraq at the time the prisoner
abuse scandal broke.

Janis Karpinski, the former commander of the 800th Military Police
Brigade, is among the officials interviewed on camera, and she
describes vividly the pressure put on her bosses to get results. It
is a little startling to see her on camera. She was the only general
punished for participation in the prisoner-abuse scandal, demoted
from brigadier general to colonel, and one of the charges against her
was shoplifting. (The documentary does not address that charge, or
reports that the Pentagon is considering a promotion for General

As the war continues, so do the other, less detectable, acts of

"Around Iraq, in the back of a Humvee or in a shipping container,
there's no camera," says an active-duty Army interrogator whose
identity is hidden in the documentary. "And there's no one looking
over your shoulder, so you can do anything you want."

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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